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The Superheroes Working to Address the Opioid Epidemic

by Jessica Hulsey

When you hear the word superhero what do you think? Probably Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or Captain America saving the day. The fictional characters with powers to leap buildings in a single bound and save the day.

When I hear the word superhero I think of people like Dr. Nora Volkow, Jonathan Blodgett, Kerry Norton, and Lauren Phelps. Extraordinary individuals using their powers and relentless passion to save generations from addiction. My superheroes are innovators saving the day and preventing and treating addiction from all sectors.

Dr. Nora Volkow

Dr. Nora Volkow is the Superman of addiction. Thanks to her research, we know the effects substance use has on the brain. Similar to other diseases, substance use disorders affect tissue function, but the good news is it can be repaired. Because of her research, we know how to prevent and treat addiction.


Jim Freund

Losing a child is the most devastating thing any parent can experience. Jim Freund lost his son Scott to suicide after struggling with a substance use disorder but turned his grief into rocket fuel. Jim now advocates on behalf of other parents’ children to make sure no one else loses a child to addiction. That’s a real superpower.


District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett

One of my superheroes is Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett in Massachusetts. He saves lives through the Essex County Drug Diversion Program. The diversion program offers a second chance to people with substance use disorders by diverting them away from the criminal justice system and into treatment. “What’s unique about this program is we’re doing everything we can to catch people at the beginning of the process, at the beginning of the cycle, which we’re trying very desperately to break,” says DA Blodgett.


Kerry Norton

Kerry Norton is no ordinary person. She is an incredible woman who sprang into action when she found a lack of treatment options for pregnant women struggling with addiction. Kerry created Hope on Haven Hill in New Hampshire, a residential treatment facility for pregnant women struggling with substance use disorder. The program helps women with recovery and teaches them parenting skills. Hope on Haven Hill allows mothers to stay with their child while growing in recovery.


Lauren Phelps

Teacher, innovator, superhero. Lauren Phelps turns everyday kids into all-stars. The Breed All-Stars Program operates out of a middle school in Lynn, Massachusetts, and teaches leadership skills to at-risk students. The amazing part about the Breed All Stars program is it doesn’t just teach addiction prevention, it provides that pro-social engagement and attachment needed to prevent addiction.


Children who witness trauma and addiction in the home need extra support. Andrea

Darr does just that. Andrea is the innovator of Handle With Care, a West Virginia program that provides support for children. When a police officer encounters a child on a call, whether a domestic violence call or addiction related, a simple message of “handle with care” is sent to the school to ensure the student receives extra attention and care at school the next day and longer.


We already know firefighters save people from fires and other disasters, but in New Hampshire, firefighters also save people from addiction. After one conversation, Chris Hickey knew Fire Departments could help those struggling with substance use disorder. With help from Chief Dan Goonan, Chris Hickey developed Safe Stations, a program that transforms every Fire Department into a safe haven for those struggling with addiction. The Department then provides a warm hand-off and connects participants to treatment, saving countless lives.


Very few people worry about the health of those incarcerated, but not Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel. He constantly thinks about ways to improve the overall health and well-being of inmates. Secretary Wetzel created two substance use disorder programs for those incarcerated. The Pennsylvania Medication-Assisted Treatment Program provides long-acting naltrexone to inmates prior to their release to better equip an inmate's recovery. And the Pennsylvania Certified Peer Specialist Program trains inmates in recovery from mental health and/or addiction to assist other inmates with similar problems.

We don’t have to look to the movies to find superheroes, because there are everyday superheroes in our backyards. They’re district attorneys, teachers, firefighters, fathers, and doctors. My superheroes are saving the next generation of kids, finding better ways to address addiction and the 20 million Americans currently struggling and educating us about the disease of addiction.

Jessica Hulsey began working in the addiction field for over 25 years. In 2015, Jessica founded the Addiction Policy Forum to help families and patients struggling with the disease of addiction. Frustrated by the lack of progress in improving outcomes for those individuals and families struggling, she started Addiction Policy Forum from her dining room table.

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